(low spoilers, but I write assuming you’ve seen it — you may be confused otherwise)
The more I think about this episode, the more I realize I liked it. I’d started to think Moffat and Gatiss couldn’t actually do this, that they were too caught up in trying to be over-the-top and couldn’t just write something well. But this was written well. There weren’t superfluous weirdnesses being thrown up all over the place… Although at first it seems weird, with the dinosaur and the Paternoster Gang and the steampunk and what-all, but actually there’s nothing there that’s not relevant.
“Deep Breath” was also written well on the small scale, with relevant themes that were explored subtly instead of conveyed self-consciously. This is also to Peter Capaldi’s credit, that he could deliver all those emotions and wham-to-the-gut lines at exactly the right moments, understating them and letting us make the connections ourselves. He made the lines really mean something because of the character saying them, because we already cared about him. But don’t read too much into that “understating” reference — he’s got just as much energy as Matt Smith, and it’s darker. It’s more focused, because he’s not a child.
If it sounds like I’m badmouthing Smith, I’m really not. I loved him. I loved him so much. But I also love Capaldi already. It’s okay to love both of them, even to love them for completely opposite reasons. That’s part of the wonder of Doctor Who, that so many people can be the same man, always, and that you can love him in so many different ways.
While I’m on the subject, a lot of comparisons have been made to various other Doctors, but I see Jon Pertwee in Capaldi the most. (And that’s awesome.) They were both older men, with the kind of experience and sadness that can bring, but also with a kind of last-minute “What have we got to lose?” wonder. Capaldi has the same flamboyance combined with a little anger, a feeling that he’s trying to hold you at a distance but only because he’s afraid of how much he cares. The story is also similar to something you might see in one of Three’s episodes, with the randomly-appearing dinosaur (who ends up making you cry) and the random machines and the larder and just the overall tone — not rushed (yay for extra-long episode) and a bit talky, in a good way. It’s people actually talking about what they want and why they’re doing it and where their philosophies clash. I love that. And of course, let’s not forget Three’s crazy post-regeneration behavior, and how Three didn’t like his new face, except for the very expressive eyebrows!
I couldn’t find the whole clip from “Spearhead from Space” but he says the eyebrows might be useful on the planet Delphon, where they communicate with their eyebrows. Here’s him saying hello. 😀
I also enjoyed Vastra and Jenny. There have been moments between them that were heartwrenching, and overall they’re a great couple, but Moffat has a long history of playing LGBT characters for laughs, and that’s been done to Vastra and Jenny before too. In this episode, they were great. They seemed like a real married couple, not without their squabbles, but also full of love for each other. (And attraction for each other too, without descending into male-gaze pandering).
Still, that brings me to the glaring “Oh god why did they do that” of this episode. Clara. The script was great in how it developed her relationship with the Doctor with her as the audience stand-in, unsure of this new face. She was clever and worked into the plot, rather than being an add-on. Her relationship with Eleven was never meaningful to me, and they never had the kind of chemistry they claimed to have — it was always, always, always Eleven and Amy Pond, and Clara was just out of place. With Twelve, she fits perfectly. I love the Ten/Donna kind of adversarial equals relationship they’ve got, and she works SO MUCH better here than with Eleven. It feels like she has things to do, rather than being just a plot device.
But it was not necessary for her to accuse Vastra of being attracted to her (super narcissistic, Clara), and more importantly, of ALL THE COMPANIONS, of all the companions EVER, Clara should be the most comfortable with the idea of regeneration. Even assuming that she didn’t actually LIVE all those other lives with other Doctors, she knows they’ve happened. She’s said before that she’s seen all his faces, because she was surprised that she hadn’t seen the War Doctor. So even if she’s a little uncertain, even if Twelve is a man she doesn’t know, even if many of her reactions in this episode are valid, she knows about regeneration. She shouldn’t be this upset and act like it’s some personal slight against HER that the Doctor was DYING and had to regenerate. She shouldn’t be asking dumb questions about how to “change him back.” Clara, it doesn’t work like that, and IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU FOR GODSAKES. I know you were spoiled in the last season by actually being the main plot device and having everybody fall all over themselves about you, but GET A GRIP.
Ahem. We’re getting a second companion next week, so I’m looking forward to that and seeing not only how the relationship between Clara and the Doctor grows, but how the new guy will play into the mix. I’m excited for this season and I hope we get more good episodes. The final scene, apparently a teaser for the season villain, worries me. It seems like Moffat’s usual schtick of “flirty evil woman in love with the Doctor.” Actually it seems like he made his dumb Irene Adler character the new Who villain. But still. This episode was solidly good, so my hope is restored that maybe we can refrain from making every season finale worse than the last in the name of “raising the stakes,” and that maybe, just maybe, we can fix some of the problems with female and diverse characters in general.
The only thing left to say I’m worried about is that I don’t get BBC America. I went to a watch party last night, but I’m not sure how I’m going to see the rest of the episodes. It looks like Amazon and other places have them for streaming almost immediately after airing, though. Assuming I can see the episodes promptly, I’ll keep posting these reactions/reviews.
Did you watch “Deep Breath”? Share your thoughts below!